County Partnership Creates ‘Disability Awareness Day’

June 8, 2010

County Partnership Creates ‘Disability Awareness Day’
Wednesday, June 16 – TD Bank Ball Park, Bridgewater

When one of her twin daughters, Marykate, was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome at age 18 months, EmPoWER Somerset Executive Director Sharon Lutz was faced with the overwhelming task of navigating a whole new world of information.

‘As her Mom, I wanted to do everything I could to understand the disorder, which was then completely new to me, and to find out what help was available to our family,’ said Lutz. ‘I would spend hours looking for programs and services that would help her development, clicking on website after website and compiling my own list of resources.’

It was after this frustrating experience that Lutz approached colleagues at the Somerset County Department of Human Services and worked with them to establish the Somerset County Childhood Disability Coalition, which she co-chairs with Mark Malone, coordinator of the Somerset County Office for the Disabled.

This group brought together representatives of several different organizations that provide services to children with disabilities and their families. Their collective efforts led to the development of the Somerset County Childhood Disability Resource Guide, which will be available both in print and online at

‘I can’t thank the Board of Chosen Freeholders and the caring members of the Somerset County Childhood Disability Coalition enough for all of their time and expertise in creating this essential resource,’ said Lutz.

‘We know that developmental disabilities, including autism, affect more children in New Jersey than in any other state,’ said Freeholder Director Jack M. Ciattarelli. ‘Autism alone affects one in every 94 children in New Jersey, compared to the national average of one in every 110. It is critical that parents be able to access the services and programs that are available to help their children and families.’

The release of the Somerset County Childhood Disability Resource Guide will be promoted at ‘Disability Awareness Day’ at the June 16 Somerset Patriots game at 7:05 p.m. at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater. Offering 50 wheelchair-accessible seats, the ballpark has always provided a recreational experience for all, and seemed like the perfect community venue to debut this new resource and raise public awareness.

Individuals with special needs will be involved in Disability Awareness Day in many ways. Students from McAuleySchool for Exceptional Children will sing God Bless America during the pre-game ceremony, and both this song and the Star-Spangled Banner will be interpreted in sign language. For the first time ever at the ballpark, the between-inning games will include a wheelchair race around the bases.

The first 1,000 fans will receive seat cushions and information will be available at the Somerset County Childhood Disability Coalition’s informational table in the concourse area. Printed copies of the Somerset County Childhood Disability Resource Guide will be distributed, along with information on how to access the guide online. Resource information from a variety of community organizations also will be available at the table.

Miss New Jersey International 2010, Brielle LaCosta, who has done extensive volunteer work to raise awareness about autism, will make a special appearance and sign autographs. Children will have the opportunity to receive a free ‘Happy Healthy ME!’ T-shirt and use fabric markers to decorate it with their own unique design. A trainer from The Seeing Eye will provide tips for interacting with guide dogs and how to become a trainer. Used eyeglasses for ‘New Eyes for the Needy’ also will be collected at the table.

All Somerset County special-needs schools have been invited to request a limited number of complimentary tickets. Reduced-rate tickets at $7 each are also available to community organizations or other interested groups serving children with special needs and their families. To request tickets or for more information, contact Wendy Bender at or (908) 722-4900.

The Somerset County Childhood Disability Coalition will continue to meet and move forward in enhancing access to information and resources for parents and other family members caring for children with special needs in Somerset County.

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